Few recent memories are as vivid as the day I was introduced to the concept that would become Billy Penn.
It was 2014. I was sitting in the back corner table at Cheu Noodle Bar with Chris Krewson, who’d invited me to lunch. He handed me a piece of paper. On it were a few treatments for a logo. They looked…ok.
“It’s gonna be a local news site,” Chris said, looking at me expectantly.
“Cool,” I said, because I knew I was supposed to think it was cool.
In reality, I wasn’t sure what to think. A new local news site? Who, what, when and where, I wondered — and most of all, why? Didn’t we already have plenty of sources for digital info? Did Philly really need something new?
As Chris and I talked over the next couple of hours, I became convinced that the idea he’d been kicking around with Jim Brady had merit.
A site without clickbait headlines. No obnoxious pop-up ads. No annoying slideshows. No aggregation, i.e. no pageview-hungry repackaging of others’ stories under a new headline. A voice that was down-to-earth and interesting, that provided the news without talking down. And a mission to focus on Philadelphia — and only on Philadelphia. Yeah, I could see the potential in that.
In October 2014, Billy Penn appeared on the scene. I was an immediate fan.
I enjoyed the laid-back, snarky Twitter account. I began to rely on the useful morning newsletter. I found myself sharing articles by Anna Orso and Mark Dent. And in late 2014, I began writing for the site myself. First I was a freelancer. Then I became a part-time contractor with the title of Weekend Editor. In May 2016, I was hired full-time as Culture Editor.
We also honored hundreds of young Philly leaders as part of our Knight-funded Who’s Next series; we broke nationally-relevant local stories about subjects as varied as the soda tax, the pope map and fake voting memes in the 2016 elections; we profiled activists, artists, chefs and rec centers; and generally treated this city like it was the center of the universe. Because for us, it is.
For me, it’s been a mind-expanding, instructive, exhilarating three years of reporting, first under Chris as my editor, and for the past five months under his successor Shannon Wink. Now it’s my turn to lead the newsroom.
Shannon has stepped down, and I’ve agreed to take the position of Acting Editor. And I’m extremely excited about Billy Penn’s future.
First, because we just hired a new reporter — Michaela Winberg, a Temple News superstar who’s already made a name for herself — and are looking to hire another. Second, because we’ve got several great freelancers working on interesting stories you won’t find elsewhere. Third, because we’re working with new partners to create all kinds of events, both informative and fun. (The first one is a healthy hot chocolate tasting at Independence LIVE! on Jan. 23 — find tickets here.)
Lastly, I’m excited because we’re about to launch membership, which’ll give readers the chance to enjoy special perks and happenings, and to generally support our work.
That work will continue to follow the vision Chris explained back at Cheu Noodle Bar, incorporating lessons learned along the way.
I want people to think of Billy Penn like I did before I worked here: Like a cool friend who always knows what’s up — one who happens to have the time to report out rumors and track down details and fact-check politicians and survey residents — and can explain it all without getting mired in wonky details or stilted sentence constructions. Someone who lives in and enjoys exploring this city. Who loves it for its strengths, and despite its flaws.
I’m honored to have the opportunity to take Billy Penn into 2018 and beyond.
Want to write for us? Collaborate on an event? Just have a question? Email me. I’m here.